The skittles season is rolling along nicely across West Dorset.
Yet out of all the pubs in all the villages that play the game, one is unique. Not for its location, but for its skittles club’s longevity, thanks mainly to the tradition handed down by a handful of West Dorset families who have helped sustain it for more than 100 years.
Since it started in 1909, West Bay Skittles Club has had just five presidents, all Palmers. Cleeves Palmer is the most recent, beginning his tenure in 2011.
Up till 1947, (excepting 1925-7) the club chairmanship was shared between just four families, Guppy, Loud, Good and Wyatt. Today, the Good and Wyatt families are into their fourth successive generation of players.
So is it a private club with an element of feudalism? Dorset has traditionally had landowning families with large estates down the years.
George Wyatt and John Good say no, but both take time to share their “family tree” of club membership.
John Good’s grandfather, Norman was one of the founding members, and was its third chairman after A.J Guppy (1909-16) and C.H Loud (1919-23).
John explains: “He took the role for just one year, but his son Reg was appointed in 1931 and kept the job through the Second World War when we didn’t play, till 1947, except for three years when the Wyatts took over. Norman’s other son, Geoffrey, my father, was secretary for so many years he never got the chair,’’ he adds.
In fact there was a 53 year gap until John himself took the chair in 2000. ‘‘My sons Chris and Will are now members, while my youngest, Sam, is now landlord of the West Bay Hotel, where we play,’’ he continues.
George Wyatt’s family are also strongly linked. ‘‘It all started with my grandfather Robert who joined the club in the 1920’s, and was chair from 1934 for three years. Then it was the turn of my father, Ralph in 1955, his brother Jack in 1961, my older brother Robert (1978) and my turn in 1986. Now my son Daniel’s been a club member since 2006,’’ he says.
George and Robert Wyatt both farm at Stoke Abbot, between Salway Ash and Beaminster. George says that West Dorset farmers played a large part in supporting the club.
“After a busy day on the land, it was great to jump in the car and drive down to the coast to let off steam and knock down some skittles over a beer.’’
Other West Dorset businessmen and their families also feature in the records, as past chairmen, E.J.D Balson (1969), J.R.B Bowditch (1988), A.J.Wakely (1999) amongst them. The Guppy and Loud families still continue to run businesses in West Bay.
“The original skittle alley was in an old stable at the Old Gravel Yard. But with the help of Palmers it was relocated to the rear of the West Bay Hotel. Palmers may own the pub, but the club owns the alley, even if they still commission Palmers to help them out with its maintenance.’’
The club consists of 80 members. They run 10 teams and membership is temporarily closed, simply because they’re not able to accommodate any more at present.
“One good thing is, you can turn up of an evening and not know who you’ll play alongside, or even if you’ll definitely get a game, but there’s always the social side,” explains John.
George adds: “There’s normally a turnover of people, but currently nobody wants to leave. Our oldest player’s in his eighties!’’
Skittlers are proud of their game, and say any connection with 10-pin bowling is irrelevant. 10-pin lanes are a standard size with three finger-holes in the balls, and the pins are arranged in a triangle formation similar to that of snooker balls in a triangle.
Skittle alleys don’t have to be the same size, the pins are set in a diamond formation (the middle one is taller than the rest), the balls have no finger holes and you can, (and George did, as he demonstrated his skittling ability) roll the ball through the nine skittles, missing every single one!